This is not an indictment of the artists, who I uniformly enjoyed and will discuss later this week. This festival was so poorly run and organized, however, that it almost ruined a lot of the weekend. If there is another Mixtape Festival in the future, they need to get some new people in charge of the planning and re-evaluate where they went so wrong. Because Friday was nothing short of a shit show.
We were fortunate enough to have the most exclusive VIP tickets that were supposed to come with a lot of privileges. People paid a lot of money for these benefits; while I personally didn’t shell out any of my own cash, VIP A ticketholders had a right to expect a certain level of service for what they were charged per ticket (over $600). There was a second group of ticketholders (VIP B) who paid significantly less than the VIP A guests (a $250 difference) and who were supposed to receive the next highest level of perks. There was basically a ticket hierarchy and VIP A was supposed to be at the top.
The festival performances started Friday at 4:30 pm. VIPs (both A and B) could begin checking in at 1 pm. VIPs received their tickets in the mail, but had to check in to receive their credentials for the weekend that would allow them to access the restricted areas and to receive their exclusive concert merchandise that was part of the ticket package. While the whole festival was general admission, the section in front of the stage was cordoned off and available only to VIPs. VIP A ticketholders would be in the front half of this section and VIP B ticketholders would be in back half.
We had made appointments at The Spa at the Hotel Hershey for Friday morning and early afternoon and planned on going directly to the concert from there. We weren’t going to get there right a 1 pm; we figured that a lot of people would arrive at that time and we’d give it a chance to die down. Besides, the idea of just hanging around for 3 and ½ hours waiting for the bands to start was a lot less attractive than getting a massage and having a nice leisurely lunch at the Spa. With our VIP A passes, we were guaranteed to be close to the stage anyway. It was a solid plan on paper.
Unfortunately, this entire plan hinged on the people behind the Mixtape Festival actually doing what they promised and having some semblance of a plan in place. And as we pulled up to Hershey Arena, it became obvious pretty quickly that there was a problem.
We arrived between sometime between 3 and 3:30 and the line to get in was almost the length of the parking lot. Actually, I should say lines, as there were two distinct lines that snaked through the parking lot, but there was no signage to indicate what the difference was between the two of them. This failure to communicate would be a recurring issue for the festival. The people in line said that one was for VIP A and the other was for VIP B, but they got that information from word of mouth; information was being passed down the line, but not necessarily from any official source. Having played the game of telephone as a kid, I wasn’t necessarily sure that I wanted to trust word of mouth; one of the lines was significantly longer than the other and I didn’t want us to waste time in the wrong line. My friend held our spot in the longer line, supposedly the one for VIP A, and I walked up to the front to investigate and to speak with someone in charge. I wanted to get some information straight from the horse’s mouth.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find anyone in charge. I periodically checked with the people in line as I got closer to the front to make sure they were all on the same page about what line this was (they were) but there didn’t seem to be anyone who could give me a definitive answer. The people that I spoke with were all grumbling that they had been there for a while, which wasn’t a good sign. I asked a young man in a yellow “Security” t-shirt what was going on, but he said that he worked for Hershey Arena and they weren’t affiliated with the check-in process; that was totally being handled by the Mixtape people. At this point I was close enough to see the check in tent and was very surprised at what I saw.
There were two people working. There were hundreds, if not a thousand, of people waiting in line and there were two people checking people in. This was not good.
I went back to our spot in line and let people know what I’d discovered. We were going to definitely be there for a while, as there was no way that two people were going to be able to process this number of people in a timely manner. It also got us thinking – if we got to the arena 2 hours after check in began, and the line was this long, exactly how many of these “exclusive” passes did they sell? How many people were already in the Arena?
As we were contemplating how many people we were going to have to jostle with at the stage, the skies opened up and a torrential rain began.
A sprinkle of rain wouldn’t have been so bad; given the heat earlier in the day, it might have even been welcomed. But this was no sprinkle. Buckets and buckets of rain began to pound us. Very few people had an umbrella, since they were undoubtedly not allowed in the arena for safety. The girls behind us didn’t even have jackets; they had assumed that if it rained that they could seek shelter in the VIP tent. They had not anticipated that they would be still standing in line. It rained so hard that the guy selling rain ponchos sought shelter.
But at this point we’d already been in line for an hour and to seek shelter meant that we would have to give up our spot and the little progress that we’d made. No joke – the line didn’t even move the first 45 minutes. We were basically in the same spot where we started. The irony, of course, is that the people who paid $60 were already inside the arena and could seek shelter, while the people who paid 10x more were standing in the rain (and lightening – we definitely saw lightening) freezing their butts off.
As the rain continued to pound us, some security guards came out to tell us we could check in later and go into the arena immediately if we didn’t want to miss the show. Because while we were standing in line in the rain, the concert had actually begun. We pointed out that if we didn’t check in, we wouldn’t get our VIP credentials and would have no access to the restricted seating area. We’d have paid VIP prices for a non-VIP experience. They had no answer for this; I actually felt kind of bad for the poor guy that they sent out with this message. He couldn’t have been more than 20 years old and he was clearly the sacrificial lamb that they sent to the slaughter.
Now, I don’t consider myself a particularly intimidating person; I’m not at all physically imposing as most people tower over me. But apparently I have a look – not that I’ve ever seen it – that scares the bejesus out of people. I don’t even know I am doing it. I once shot a look at a girl who was talking to the guy I was dating at a bar; the look was actually meant for him, and I thought it was more inquisitive than threatening. But the girl saw it and not only came over to me to apologize and tell me that she had no ulterior motives in talking to my date – she was just making casual conversation – but when her boyfriend arrived 30 minutes later, she dragged him over to introduce him to me to prove her point. I must have shot that same look at the kid as he was speaking to us, because I think for the first time in the history of man, a security guard actually apologized for the situation. And, frankly, he looked a little scared. So clearly, I can give a powerful look. I need to learn how to do it on purpose.
We declined their offer; we didn’t want to have to miss even more of the show getting back in line for the credentials later in the night and we wanted to get what we paid for. I was also concerned that if there was a real problem down the road, we would lose some standing to complain if we conceded our privileges and went into the show. I like to think I’m a lawyer; I actually told them that I was a lawyer, thinking that might move things along. People are afraid of lawyers and I’ve spent enough time around the law that I can throw out some legal terms and that usually makes people nervous. Plus at this point I was bored and I was having fun riling up people in line with words like “fraud” and “breach of contract.” I had to do something to amuse myself.
All in all, we spent 2.5 hours in line and missed the first 3 ½ acts. I wasn’t particularly disappointed by who we missed, but it was the principle. I have no idea what the holdup was; we ran into some people over the course of the weekend who had gotten there when check in began and they were in line for 4 hours. So getting there later did comparatively work to our advantage. But we were soaked and cranky by the time we entered the festival. We probably would have still be mad, but the complete failure of the people affiliated with the Mixtape Festival to address the issue only served to intensify the sour taste in everyone’s mouth and set a bad tone for the weekend. It certainly didn’t help boost our spirits that the “exclusive concert merchandise” turned out to be a plastic cup. I’ve resolved I’m only drinking champagne out of that stupid cup for all the hell we went through to get it.
It wasn’t the end of the problems, however. Despite what was promised, the VIP section was NOT divided into an A and B section. So the VIP As that suffered through the longer wait arrived to their section only to discover that all the VIP Bs were at the front of the stage. I legitimately thought that there was going to be a riot and I can’t say I could blame them. It wasn’t fair that we were not getting what what we paid for. It was a major oversight that showed how poorly organized they were; all they had to do was throw up a few barricades and they couldn’t even do that right. We still managed to get close to the stage, but there was some definite hostility between the two groups. Repeated complaints went unheard; no one seemed to know whose fault the screw up was or how it could be remedied. There was just a lot of shrugging of shoulders and denial of responsibility, which just made people angrier. People were already so testy after the long wait that it was really a powder keg waiting to explode. Thankfully nothing happened that I know of, but the potential was definitely there for something bad to happen.
The VIP tent was also not exactly as advertised; their idea of snacks was that each person could get one bag of chips – the same size chips you would get out of a vending machine. If you took a bag, they checked you off the list and that was all you got. We actually wound up eating those chips at 3 in the morning back at the hotel since we never got dinner; we were afraid to leave the stage for fear we would lose our hard fought spots. I also never saw any of the other amenities that were supposed to be there, though we admittedly didn’t spend much time in the tent because it kind of smelled. I don’t know if that was a result of the rain or what, but it wasn’t a place I was looking to spend a lot of time in.
They finally got their acts together by the after party and were able to divide the different VIP groups, but by that time the damage was done. People had a good time Friday, but it was in spite of the people in charge. It was also clear by the end of Friday that they had totally oversold the VIP tickets for both groups; at check in they claimed that they only sold 1,500 tickets, but there is just no way that there is true. The “exclusive” tickets turned out to not be all that exclusive.
If the tickets hadn’t been so expensive and if promises hadn’t been made to the ticketholders, I think people would have been slightly more forgiving. But even if the tickets were cheaper, it was clear that the entire festival was poorly managed. I’ve never put on an event of this magnitude, but I have done some event planning and they didn’t even have the basics down. The ball was definitely dropped on some very obvious things and people left Friday night feeling ripped off despite the best efforts of the artists to put on a great show. They clearly knew how many tickets that they had sold, so there was absolutely no excuse for the poor staffing. It also probably would have expedited the process if they were using something other than iPhones to check people in.
Ultimately, we still had a good time. We just had to let things go and make the best of a bad situation. As we stood in the pouring rain, we just had to laugh or we were going to cry. It was frustrating, but you have to make lemonade from lemons. But Live Nation, Hershey Arena and the Mixtape Festival organizers should really be ashamed of how they handled things. If you are going to charge a premium for an event, it should live up to the price tag.